Author: Sarah Perez

Facebook can now sync your Instagram contacts to Messenger

Facebook wants to expand your Messenger contact list with a little help from Instagram. The company has launched a feature in Messenger that pulls in your contacts from Instagram, if you opt to connect your account. The option appears in Messenger’s “People” tab, alongside the existing option to sync your phone’s contacts with Messenger.

The feature was first spotted by Jane Manchun Wong, who posted a screenshot to Twitter.

Others outside the U.S. noticed the option as well.

We also found the option enabled in our own Messenger app, and have now confirmed with Facebook it’s a full public launch.

When you tap on “Connect Instagram,” Messenger adds contacts from Instagram automatically. In addition, your Instagram username and account also then becomes visible to other people on Messenger.

The result is an expanded social graph of sorts — one that combines the friends and family you know from Facebook, with those you know from Instagram.

Not everyone is thrilled with the feature, however.

As one Twitter user pointed out, it’s not clear that pushing “Connect Instagram” (the button’s title that appeared to some), means Messenger will automatically add your Instagram contacts to Messenger. It seems that you should be given a choice here as to if you want to add them, but that’s not the case.

In December 2017, TechCrunch spotted a very similar option to sync Instagram contacts to Messenger in the same People section. However, the option never launched to the public and later disappeared. But the recent re-emergence of the feature is not a continued test — it’s now rolled out, Facebook says.

This is not the first time Facebook has added integrations between its apps.

For example, in 2016 it gave businesses access to a unified inbox of conversations from across its platforms, including Facebook, Instagram and Messenger. Last year, it also tested a cross-app notification feature. There’s even an option to launch Facebook right in Instagram itself, via an icon on your Instagram profile page.

The timing of the launch is notable, given that Instagram’s own Direct Messaging service has become a popular communications service of its own.

Instagram Direct as of April 2017 had 375 million users, and was spun off into its own standalone app last year in select countries outside the U.S. With so many users now messaging through Facebook-owned Instagram, it’s clear that Facebook wants to capitalize on that activity to grow its own Messenger app, too.

Tinder tests Bitmoji integration using the recently launched Snap Kit

Tinder will begin testing Bitmoji in its app in Canada and Mexico, the company announced today. The new integration comes courtesy of the recently launched Snap Kit, which allows third-party apps to take advantage of Snap’s login for sign-up and features, like its Snap Map and Bitmoji, among other things. In Tinder, users in the test regions will be able to send the Bitmoji to their matches within their chat conversations.

Tinder was one of Snap’s debut partners for Snap Kit, along with Patreon and Postmates. However, it hadn’t yet launched the integrations until today.

“With our Bitmoji integration, we’re giving users a playful new way to engage with matches. This is just one way we work with partners to add features that encourage users to experiment with more personalized ways of chatting; in this case, it’s the freedom to get creative with avatars,” said Tinder Chief Product Officer Brian Norgard, in an announcement.

This isn’t the first time Tinder has added functionality to enhance its chat experience. It already offers the ability to use emoji, and, thanks to a 2016 partnership with Giphy, users can send GIFs to matches to help break the ice and have more playful conversations.

For those who have access to Bitmoji, the option will appear in place of the emoji button in the chat interface. When you press the green Bitmoji icon (next to the GIF button) for the first time, you’ll have to tap “Connect to Snapchat” to authenticate.

From then on, you can search across your Bitmoji collection using keywords in the search box, or you can tap on the color-coded bubbles that aggregate commonly used Bitmoji expressions like “good morning,” “coffee,” “busy,” and others. You can also tap on “recents” to find those you have used in the past.

Tinder has been running a growing number of experiments as of late, having launched tests of things like Tinder Places for finding matches you may cross paths with, A.I. suggestions on who to “Super Like,” a real-time feed of social updates, curated selections called Tinder Picks, a video feature called Tinder Loops, and more, over the past six months or so. The video feature rolled out globally earlier this month, which indicates that at least some tests will turn into product features for all to use.

Tinder says the Bitmoji feature is in testing in Canada and Mexico, but didn’t confirm if or when it would roll out to other markets, like the U.S.

 

Facebook rolls out more API restrictions and shutdowns

Following the Cambridge Analytica data misuse scandal and the more recent discovery of a Facebook app that had been leaking data on 120 million users, Facebook is today announcing a number of API changes aimed at better protecting user information. The changes will impact multiple developer-facing APIs, including those used to create social experiences on the site, as well as those for media partners, and more.

Some of the APIs are being shuttered for low adoption, while others will require app reviews going forward, Facebook said.

The company said the following API restrictions were now being put into place:

  • Graph API Explorer App: Facebook will deprecate its test app today. Developers will need to use their own apps’ access tokens to test their queries on the Graph API Explorer going forward.
  • Profile Expression Kit: This let developers build apps that allowed people to jazz up their profile photos or create profile videos. This one seems to be lumped in the group of shutdowns not because of misuse potential, but because it had low adoption. It will shut down October 1.
  • Media Solutions APIs: On August 1, Facebook is shutting down Topic Search, Topic Insights and Topic Feed and Public Figure APIs due to low usage. It already deprecated the Trending API and Signal tool for journalists, the Trending Topics product and the Hashtag Voting for interactive TV experiences. Going forward, Facebook says public content discovery APIs will be limited to page content and public posts on certain verified profiles.
  • Pages API: Developers can search using the Pages API again, but will need feature permissions to Page Public Content Access, which can only be obtained through the app review process.
  • Marketing API: Developers will have to go through an app review before they can use this API.
  • Leads Ads Retrieval: Facebook is introducing new app review permissions for this, too.
  • Live Video APIs: Will also have new app review permissions.

The changes were detailed in a post published in the Facebook Newsroom, which hinted they would not be the last.

The company has been auditing its app ecosystem in an effort to find other apps that may have been leaking data. Related to this effort, it previously announced a series of other API changes aimed at getting a better handle on how Facebook apps can access and use people’s information.

This latest batch of API changes doesn’t include some of the higher-profile APIs — like when Facebook made changes to Facebook Login, Groups, Events and other APIs back in April. However, it does indicate that the developer platform review process is still underway, and more APIs will likely still be addressed in the future.

Twitter gets a re-org and new product head

Twitter has a new product manager in the wake of a large re-org of the company announced this week. The changes will see Twitter dividing its business into groups including engineering, product, revenue product, design and research, and more, while also bringing on Kayvon Beykpour, the GM of video and former Periscope CEO, as product head.

Beykpour will replace Ed Ho, vice president of product and engineering, as Ho steps down into a part-time role. In a series of tweets, Ho explains his decision was based on a family loss, and says he hopes to return full-time in the future. He had been on leave from Twitter since May.

As Recode noted, these change will make Beykpour the sixth exec to head up product since early 2014.

Meanwhile, Ho’s other role — head of engineering — will now be overseen by Mike Montano, who is stepping up from product engineering.

Twitter CEO’s announcement of the changes, below, was tweeted out on Thursday:

Winnie raises $4 million to make parents’ lives easier

An app that has the needs of modern-day parents in mind, Winnie, has now raised $4 million in additional seed funding in a round led by Reach Capital. Other investors in the new round include Rethink Impact, Homebrew, Ludlow Ventures, Afore Capital, and BBG Ventures, among others. With the new funds, Winnie has raised $6.5 million to date.

The San Francisco-based startup, which begun its life as a directory of kid-friendly places largely serving the needs of newer parents, has since expanded to become a larger platform for parents.

Winnie was founded by Bay Area technologists, Sara Mauskopf, who spent time at Postmates, Twitter, YouTube and Google, and Anne Halsall, also from Postmates and Google, as well as Quora and Inkling.

As new parents themselves, they built Winnie out a personal need to find the sort of information parents crave – details you can’t easily dig up in Google Maps or Yelp.

For example, you can use Winnie to find nearby kid-friendly destinations like museums or parks, as well as those that welcome children with features like changing tables in restrooms, wide aisles in stores for stroller access, areas for nursing, and other things.

Winnie serves as a good example of what investing in women can achieve. Somehow, the young, 20-something men that receive the lion’s share of VC funding had never thought up the idea of app that helps new parents navigate the world. (I know, shocking, right?) And yet, the kind of questions that Winnie tries to answer are those that all parents, at some point, are curious about.

The data on Winnie is crowd-sourced, with details, ratings and reviews coming from other real parents. Listings in San Francisco may be more fleshed out than elsewhere, as that’s where Winnie got its start. However, the app is now available in 10,000 cities across the U.S., and has just surpassed over a million users.

In more recent months, Winnie has been working to expand beyond being a sort of “Yelp for parents,” and now features an online community where parents can ask questions and participate in discussions.

“The crowdsourced directory of family-friendly businesses is still a huge component of what we do…and this has grown to over 2 million places across the United States,” notes Winnie co-founder and CEO Sara Mauskopf. “But we also have these real-time answers to any parenting question from this authentic, supportive community,” she says, referring to Winnie’s online discussions.

The idea is that parents will be searching the web for answers to questions about toddler sleep issues or good local preschools or breastfeeding help, and Winnie’s answers will come up in search results, similar to other Q&A sites like Quora or Yahoo Answers.

“A lot of younger millennial parents are turning to Google to find answers to these questions,” adds Winnie co-founder and CPO Anne Halsall. “So we want to have the answer to these questions at the ready, and we want to have the best page. That’s an example of something that’s yield a lot of traffic for us, just because no one else had that data before Winnie,” she says.

Related to this expansion, Winnie is also serving this data across platforms, including – obviously – the web, in addition to its native app on iOS and Android. The hope is that, with the growth, business owners will come in to claim their pages on Winnie.com, too, and update their information.

 

In the near-term, the founders say they’ll put the funding to use building out more personalization features.

“As a technology company, we have a unique opportunity to give you this really tailored experience that grows with your family over time – so as your children are getting older, and you’re entering new phases of development, our product’s adapting and putting relevant information in front of you,” Halsall says. 

Data on businesses serving the needs of parents with older kids – like summer camps or driver’s ed classes, for example – are the kind of things Winnie will focus on as it grows to include information for more parents, instead of just those with younger children and babies.

Winnie will also use the funds to hire additional engineers to help it scale its platform.

Esteban Sosnik from Reach Capital joined Hunter Walk from Homebrew on Winnie’s board as a result of the funding.

The app is a free download for iOS and Android, and is available on the web at Winnie.com.

Messenger Kids expands outside the U.S., rolls out ‘kindness’ features

Facebook’s kid-friendly messaging app, Messenger Kids, is expanding to its first countries outside the U.S. today, with launches in Canada and Peru. It’s also introducing French and Spanish versions of its app, and rolling out a handful of new features focused on promoting respect and empathy, including a “Messenger Kids Pledge” and something called “Kindness Stickers,” which are meant to inspire more positive emotions when communicating online.

The stickers say things like “MY BFF” or “Well Done!” or “Best Artist,” and are designed to be placed on shared photos.

Also helpful is the new “Messenger Kids Pledge,” which is designed for both parents and children to read together, and includes some basic guidelines about how to be behave online. For example, it reminds everyone to “be kind when you communicate,” and to “be respectful,” explaining also that when someone doesn’t respond right away, they may just be too busy. “Be safe” and “have fun” are also a part of the guidelines.

This seems like a small addition, but it’s the kind of thing parents should already be doing with their kids when they introduce new technology – and many do not. Some parents don’t even know what apps kids are using, which has allowed those less secure apps to become hunting grounds for predators.

Messenger Kids works differently, as it requires parental involvement. Kids can’t add any friends without parental approval, and the app can be managed directly from parents’ Facebook.

While it’s understandable that people have a hard time trusting Facebook these days, there isn’t any viable alternative that allows kids to “practice” communicating or socializing online in a more controlled environment. Kids instead beg for apps aimed at adults and older teens, like Snapchat, Instagram, and Musical.ly – apps I personally won’t install for a “tween.”

Messenger Kids at least gives kids a way to privately socialize with approved people – kids whose parents you know and trust, and family members on Facebook. They’re at an age where you can still look over their shoulder, and correct bad behavior as it arises.

The alternative to using Messenger Kids is what a lot parents do – they refuse all social apps until kids reach a certain age, then throw them to the wolves on the internet. Is that really better?

Despite its sandboxed nature, kids like Messenger Kids because it has the features they actually want from the adult-oriented apps – like photo filters and stickers. (If the app would please add Facebook’s new lip-sync feature so I could stop hearing the begs for Musical.ly on a daily basis, I’d be much appreciative.)

Related to its push for kindness and respect, Messenger Kids will also soon roll out an interactive guide within its app called the “Appreciation Mission” which will encourage kids to discover and express appreciation for their friends and family. This will live in the “Mission” section of the app, where kids learn how to use features, like starting a video call or sending a photo.

Facebook says it consults with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and a global group of advisors on the development of the features focused on these principles of social and emotional learning. (The Yale Center is a paid advisor.)

Come to think of it, a lot of adults could benefit from these sorts of features, too. Maybe Facebook and Twitter should add their own in-app kindness reminders, as well?

Messenger Kids also added support for two parents to manage kids’ accounts, based on customer feedback.

The app is a free download on iOS and Android.

 

Messenger Kids I Safer Messaging and Video Chat

Messenger Kids is a free, safer messaging and video chat app that provides more control for parents and more fun for kids.

Posted by Messenger Kids on Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Happn takes on Tinder Places with an interactive map of missed connections

Dating app Happn, whose “missed connections” type of dating experience connects people who have crossed paths in real life, is fighting back at Tinder. Seemingly inspired by Happn’s location-based features, Tinder recently began piloting something called Tinder Places – a feature that tracks your location to match you with those people who visit your same haunts – like a favorite bar, bookshop, gym, restaurant, and more.

Of course Tinder’s move into location-based dating should worry Happn, which had built its entire dating app around the idea of matching up people who could have met in real life, but just missed doing so.

Now, Happn is challenging Tinder Places with a new feature of its own. It’s debuting an interactive map where users can discover those people they’ve crossed paths with over the past seven days.

Happn founder, French entrepreneur Didier Rappaport, dismisses the Tinder threat.

“We don’t see it as a threat at all but as a good thing,” he tells TechCrunch. “Find the people you’ve crossed paths with has always been in Happn’s DNA since the beginning….We are very flattered that Tinder wants to include the same feature in its product. However, we will never use the swipe in our product,” he says.

Rappaport believes swiping is wrong because it makes you think of the other person as a product, and that’s not Happn’s philosophy.

“We want to [give our users a chance] to interact or not with a person, to take their time to decide, to be able to move back in their timeline if suddenly they change their mind and want to have a second chance,” he notes.

To use Happn’s map, you’ll tap on a specific location you’ve visited, and are then presented with potential matches who have been there too, or within 250 meters of that spot. The map will use the same geolocation data that Happn already uses to create its timeline, but just displays it in another form.

For those who aren’t comfortable sharing their location all the time with a dating app (um, everyone?), Happn also offers an “invisibility” mode that lets people hide their location during particular parts of the day – for example, while they’re at work.

While Happn’s new feature is a nice upgrade for regular users, Tinder’s location-based features – we’re sorry to report – are more elegantly designed.

Today, Happn’s invisibility mode has to be turned on when you want to use it, or you have to pay for a subscription to schedule to come on automatically at certain times. That means it requires more effort to use on a day-to-day basis.

Meanwhile, Tinder Places lets you block a regular place you visit – like, say, the gym – from ever being recorded as a place you want to show up for matches. It also automatically removes places that would be inappropriate, including your home and work addresses, and alerts you when it’s adding a new one – so you can quickly take action to remove it, if you choose. Tinder Places is also free. (It’s just not rolled out worldwide at this time).

Happn, however, does offer a way to hide your profile information and other details from select users, and never shows your current location in real time, also like Tinder.

Happn, which launched back in 2014, now claims nearly 50 million users worldwide, across 50 major cities and 40 countries. It claims to have 6.5 million monthly users – but that’s much smaller, compared with Tinder’s estimated 50 million actives.

And with Tinder parent Match Group snatching up Hinge, suing Bumble, and effectively copying the idea of using “missed connections,” one has to wonder how much life rival dating apps, especially those of Happn’s size, have left.

The app is a free download on the App Store, Play Store and Windows Store.